GORI, Georgia (Reuters) -- Russia has partly complied with a cease-fire deal requiring it to pull back its forces in Georgia, France's foreign minister said on a visit to verify the pullback on behalf of the European Union.
Russian soldiers and tanks pushed into zones around the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia during a war in August. On October 10, a deadline for them to leave, which was set out in a French-brokered cease-fire deal, expired.
Asked in the Georgian town of Gori, near South Ossetia, if Russia had honored the cease-fire deal, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters, "I think so, but partly."
EU foreign ministers could decide next week whether to restart talks on a strategic partnership treaty with Russia that the 27-member bloc put on hold until it is satisfied Russia has complied with the cease-fire deal.
But diplomats in Brussels said there were differences inside the EU over the kind of signal that would be sent to Russia if the talks were resumed right away.
Russian troops and armored personnel carriers left their checkpoints in the Russian-declared buffer zones this week and Moscow says it is now in full compliance with the cease-fire.
But pro-Western Georgia says the Kremlin has not honored the cease-fire because Russian troops remain in the two breakaway regions, which threw off Georgian rule in the 1990s, and in particular in small pockets of those regions that Tbilisi says it controlled until the war this year.
"They had to leave the buffer zone before October 10 and they did it," said Kouchner, speaking earlier in front of a burnt-out house in Ergneti, a Georgian village near South Ossetia that was until this week patrolled by Russian soldiers.
But he said he was aware of the disputed pockets of land and that these would be discussed at an international conference on Georgia to take place in Geneva on October 15.
Kouchner, dressed in a suit and tie, toured the area in an armored jeep together with a team of EU cease-fire monitors, part of a 225-strong contingent deployed to Georgia as a condition for Russia to pull back.
Russia launched a massive counterstrike in August after Georgian forces tried to retake South Ossetia. The Kremlin said it was morally obliged to act to prevent what it called a genocide by Georgian forces.
Russian forces pushed into undisputed Georgian territory -- and near to the route of a major Western-backed oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea -- drawing Western accusations that its response was disproportionate.